O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps.
A creature intelligent and responsible, I know how to propose an end to myself, and to take means towards its accomplishment. It is thus I make a plan for the development of my faculties, for the selection of my career, for the education of my family, and for the government of my household. But though capable of willing and of acting, I cannot arrange at my own discretion either things, events, or myself; and if sometimes my plans succeed, much more frequently do they fail. This weakness is so inherent in my movements, and entails so much failure, that my real life contrasts painfully with my ideal. It is at this moment that Jeremiah interposes to show me, in the derangement of my plan, a law directing me to a higher plan — namely, the plan of God for me — a perfect plan, which is far better than mine, both as it regards my general interests, and probably my personal advantage; a powerful plan, which infallibly accomplishes itself, whatever may be the destinies and vicissitudes of mine; and an all-controlling plan which reigns supremely over mine, and is intended to rectify it. From this time, that which calls itself overturned in my plan takes the name of success in that of God: as in those pictures of tapestry that are worked from behind, the coloured threads, which the workman weaves with a skilful hand, present an appearance of inextricable confusion, until they are seen on their true side, which is that not of the workman, but of the artist; so the plan of man is on the wrong side of life — that of God is on the right. Regarded thus, my action is never without law, nor without result, for I am always accomplishing the plan of God, knowing it or not, let us rather say, willing it or not. The history of peoples, of great men, and even of every day, discovers alike, to an attentive observer, God's plan, deciding all others without interfering with the free operations of man. The people, of all others, who can furnish me with the best illustration are the Israelites. If anywhere there had ever been the appearance of a plan exclusively belonging to man, it was in heathen Rome, spreading from people to people the network of that political ascendency, which appears, for a long time, to be endowed with the singular prerogative of strengthening itself by extension; or in Christian Rome, spreading from church to church the more subtle network of religious ascendency, which we see by turns, or rather which we see at the same time, and in the same places, energetically repulsed, and tamely submitted to, if not courted. But when we observe this more closely, we discover at a glance, in all that has happened to one and to the other Rome, the marks of a plan which has not originated in the judgment of man, but which takes from a higher region its period of departure and approach. But let us approach our subject nearer: let us come to everyday life, and to that life considered in all that is most allied to our own being, and to our own doing; even there, what real part belongs to you in the arrangement of your domestic life? To begin at the beginning, does not a popular proverb teach us in how many ways the best contrived conjugal relationships escape not only the control, but even the anticipations of man? Life, health, family, property; yes, more — sympathy and mutual affection; on how many things do all these depend, which depend so little on you! "The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is of the Lord." But let us consider that which depends upon us most of all — the education of our children. Here is a son born unto me: I exert over him, after God, the greatest power, material, intellectual, and spiritual, in the whole universe. One says, this child will become what I wish him to be, apart from that which is unforeseen — yes, the unforeseen; but then how much does that one word include! Oh! where is the man so blind as to imagine that he can determine the future of his son? What are we to say of those educations that break all our arrangements? — those arrangements which sometimes fail after every possible precaution, and others which succeed when the precautions have been omitted, but where this omission appears to have favoured a truer and better development? Are we to say that, because our plan fails, everything is to be abandoned to circumstances, under pretence of leaving everything to God? No; by no means. There must be no occasion for self-reproach: there must rather be redoubled diligence and wisdom, along with the deep conviction that we are working for a plan which is wholly of God. But still, after all, education, this largest sphere of man's power, is also the scene of his greatest weakness: and there is no person on the face of the earth more fitted to repeat the lesson of Jeremiah than the father of a numerous family, entering, like Moses, into his rest, in sight of that unknown Canaan, into which the generation following enter. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." No one but Jesus Christ has ever completely realised the idea of my text; no one has ever been so completely ruled by a plan Divine. Jesus does nothing, can do nothing, of Himself. He does not proclaim His doctrine, but the doctrine of the Father Who sent Him; He seeks not His own glory, but the glory of the Father Who sent Him; He fulfils not His own will, but the will of the Father Who sent Him; He says only the things which the Father has told Him, and does only the things which the Father has commanded Him. And yet by no one else has the will of man and his freedom ever been more fully demonstrated than by Jesus Christ. The same plan which appears to us as belonging only to the Father, who devised it, appears equally to belong to the Son, who accomplished it. There is but one solution possible to this problem: — If the Son realises, at the same time, the plan of the Father, and His own personal plan. it is because the two plans are one; it is because the Son has so fully adopted the plan of the Father that He has made it His own; even that plan which He appears alternately to accept and choose — according as we regard it in His obedience, or in His freedom — by which means He accomplished the great law of human nature which Jeremiah has revealed in my text, but depriving it of all appearance of weakness or of necessity, being so much the more obedient as He was perfectly free, and so much the more free as He was perfectly obedient. Behold the mystery we are seeking. "Go and do likewise." Of the two plans that are before you — that of God and your own — attempt only one of them; and not being able to impose your own plan on God, adopt His; not in the spirit of slavish constraint, but in that of filial submission. Thus, like Jesus, you will accomplish fully the plan of God, which is now become yours, whilst yours is one with His; and this will be for you, as it was for Jesus, the principle of perfect reconciliation between interests apparently opposed; for, on the one hand, accomplishing God's plan, you will feel yourself to be in order: and, on the other hand, accomplishing your own, you will feel yourself at liberty.
Parallel VersesKJV: O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.